From the Annals of the Secessionists – In 1850, Carlos Esparza and others first attempted to establish a territorial government and separate the Territory of the Rio Grande from the rest of Texas. The secession movement was intended to protect the interests of Hispanics who were widely discriminated against despite their role in securing Texas independence. The movement never went anywhere and was eventually dropped. Esparza was a Mexican-born follower of Juan Cortina and wealthy rancher. He seemed an unlikely proponent of the Hispanic cause, but Esparza worked mostly behind the scenes in advance of Cortina’s goals.
During the Civil War he worked with both Union and Confederate forces while promoting the Cortinista cause. In 1873 Esparza was appointed as an inspector of hides and animals for Cameron County and apparently used that position to aid Cortina in avoiding capture. After Cortina was arrested in 1875, however, Esparza retreated to his ranch, avoided further political causes and was seldom seen thereafter.
From the Annals of the Border – In 1859, Mexican rancher, politician, military commander and at times outlaw Juan Cortina rode into Brownsville with a band of 80 men and seized control of the town. Cortina had a long running feud with the Anglos in south Texas who were attempting to oust him from his family’s extensive holdings on the north side of the Rio Grande in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. For his efforts, Cortina was viewed as a champion of Mexicans living along the border in the years after the War. The first “Cortina War” arose from an incident on July 13, 1859, when Cortina saw the Brownsville city marshall, Robert Shears, arrest and brutally beat a Mexican who had once been employed by Cortina. Cortina shot the marshall in the shoulder and rode out of town with the prisoner. Early on the morning of September 28, 1859, he rode into Brownsville again, and seized control of the town. Five men, including the city jailer, were shot during the raid. Cortina’s hold on Brownsville was short-lived as residents of Matamoros convinced him to return to Mexico which he did on September 30.